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366 Days

April 29, 2011

Exactly one year and one day ago, I received the e-mail from NSLI.  It didn´say congratulations.  It just said something like, ‘I am pleased to inform you that the NSLI-Y scholarship committee has recommended you to receive a 2010-2011 scholarship to study Turkish in Turkey for one academic year.’  I don´t quite remember the wording. 

I remember telling my family that I got it.  I didn´t need to say more.  I had been waiting the whole month for that e-mail.  It was a crazy feeling that after so much time of waiting, I was actually going to go.  The idea of exchange wasn´t an idea anymore.  It was reality.  A countdown existed.  Although I didn´t know the city or family, I knew that I would be going. 

Telling my friends was even stranger.  I had decided to keep the fact I have even applied for the scholarship out of the radar at school, only telling a few people.  When I finally told my classmates I wasn´t going to be coming back next year, it was a big surprise.  The fact I was going to be an exchange student was even more of a surprise.   Even though my school hosts exchangers almost every year, not one of us had ever gone.  I was the first. 

After that day, a lot changed.  Rather, my mindset was a lot different.  I had to get ready for next year.  I took my English class over the summer since I wasn´t going to be able to take it this year.  Seeing people at my sister´s graduation party was strange, because a) I had to tell them I was going to Turkey, or b) it was the last time I was going to see them before I left.  The last few days before I left, I was a mess.  Almost anything could make me cry…just because I was realizing I wouldn´t have these things in less than 100 hours.  A realization like that one causes you to think much, much differently.

So that day changed my mindset drastically.  April 28, 2010 until August 30, 2010.  Then I got on the plane at 7 a.m. on the morning of the 31st. 

I can´t even describe how much I have changed from that moment of looking through the window at my family while boarding the plane until now.  I have changed tremendously.

You don´t have to look far to see that I have not lived in small town Minnesota my whole life.  Let´s start with my Facebook friends.  Over half of my friends do not have an English name.  There aren´t too many Hasans or Cemres in Minnesota.  You can also find an ‘Alvaro’ and ‘Khaled’ in there too.  Not Turkish, but Brazilian and Palestinian.  It is amazing how many people from different places you meet as an exchange student. 

At the NYC orientation, one of the returnees said she became much more outgoing and louder through her exchange year.  While I may have become more outgoing, I would not say I am ‘louder’.  Maybe quieter even.  However, I am much more careful about what I say.  I am learning to think before I speak.  Yes, this is an important skill.

I am much more patient than when I first arrived.  You have to be.  I am learning a language; that doesn´t come overnight.  I am living with a 10 year old that wants to be exactly like me.   These, plus the fact I am living in a foreign country, has caused a great increase in patience.  It´s a good thing.

I don´t know for sure, but I think I relate to people more easily.  I have experienced and seen many things I never even knew existed.  Also, I now know first hand that sometimes you can´t solve a problem.  But if you are just willing to listen to someone talk and explain, they will feel a lot better.  Same goes when you are the one who is crying.  Plus, hugs are amazing.

I value my family so much more.  We truly do take the most important things in life for granted.  Once those things are gone, I realized just how much it relied on them.  I have learned to live quite far away, but that doesn´t change the fact I will be so overjoyed to be back with them in just two months.  (And a side note: does anyone know about big teeth or something like that?)

But it has been a year and a day since this whole crazy exchange really started.   More if you count the application process.  There is no doubt it has changed my life.  Yes, there has been a long of really indescribable hard moments throughout the year.  But I don´t regret it. 

Lesson 366: Don´regret the choices you make.  You can´t change the past, so learn to live with them and make the best of them.


Turkish Doors

April 24, 2011

The Front Door (notice how the 'handle' doesn´t turn)

Allow me to get straight to the point.  Turkish front doors don´t have handles.  That´s right, there is no handle on my front door.  I mean, there is a handle, but not the type that you turn to open the door.  The handle that is on the door is just there so you can close the door while leaving.  It may as well be a string duct taped to the door; although that wouldn´t look as pretty, it would serve the same purpose. 

I guess I probably saw that the door was different the first time I looked at it.  In fact I know I saw the difference.  I though, ‘Wow.  How do you even open this thing?’  But I was with my host family every time I left the house, so I never actually had to open the door.  In fact, I didn´t even get a key for the house until about 5 or 6 weeks after I arrived.  Therefore, I guess the fact that the door didn´t have a handle slipped my mind.  My host family never hard any problems opening the door, why would I?

Another lesson I have learned since coming to Turkey: don´t assume anything.  The assumption will probably be wrong and may or may not (usually ‘may’) cause problems.  This assumption (that I wouldn´t have a problem opening the door) was incorrect. 

I don´t remember the full story of how I learned I didn´t know how to open the door, but it went something like the following.  I came home at a time no one else was at home.  In other words, no one could open the door for me.  The door from the outside to the building was already open, so I went up to my floor and rang the doorbell.  No answer.  I rang it again with the same response.  Then I proceeded to stand in front of the door for at least 5 full minutes wondering what I should do.  I decided I should go down stairs, back outside at sit at the cafe owned by the neighbors. 

Well, I get down there and I don´t even start to explain that I don´t have a key.  Turns out that my family left a key with our neighbor to give to me.  So I cheerily take the key and ride the elevator back up to my floor.  I put the key into the door and turn it.  Looking back now, I don´t know what I exactly did, but I do know that the door did not open.  So what did I do?  I stood for another few minutes wondering how big of an idiot I will look like when I go back downstairs and tell the neighbor I couldn´t open the door.

Keep in mind this is the beginning of October when I really couldn´t say, well, anything.

But I did go down and they got the point I didn´t know how to use the key.  So this guy comes up with me and, just like a magician, opens the door right before my very eyeballs.  I am still in shock how he did it.  Rather, how I didn´t do it.

That night I had my 10 year old host sister teach me how to open the door using a key.  I can now say I have never had a problem since that day.  Except the time I used the wrong key, but that is an exception. 🙂

So what is the point of me telling all of you unknown readers this story?  (Yes, here comes a very deep thought.)  Let´s take it step by step…like when proving a geometry theorem. 

  1. There are doors and keys both in America and in Turkey.
  2. Keys are used to open doors.
  3. The system of using keys is different in America and Turkey.
  4. Before I learned the new system, I couldn´t open the door.
  5. Therefore, without learning the new system (a.k.a. changing the way I live and think), I can´t live very successfully in this country.

I hope you got the point there.

I am successfully thriving in this country.  Yes, there are still rough days, but those happen where ever you are living.  When you are a teenager abroad, those moments just come from different sources.  However, I can confidently say there are a lot fewer of those moments than there used to be.  Mostly because I have learned so much about how life ‘works’ here and how to ‘open doors’. (Please don´t read that as I am here just to open doors for myself…it just tied in very well with the above story.)

I have told a lot of people in America after ‘I got over myself’, life improved tremendously.  In more eloquent phrasing, once I learned to accept this culture and that I don´t have to accept everything about the culture, I was able to more openly learn and discover new things.  Life became colorful.  And a lot more fun.

A big part of being an exchange student is learning to live like the people of your host country.  Learning to relate with them and showing them differences between the two cultures.  You come to teach.  You are breaking down many barrier and stereotypes.  It is hard to do, especially while trying to respect their culture.  You are also here to learn.  There is a big chance that many aspects of your host country are better than your home country.  I will bet that there is no return exchange student who could not tell you about a situation in better standing in his host country than in his home country.  Once you return, you teach again.  What was good, what was not, and how can we make this world a overall more pleasant place to exist (sorry for the slight cheesy-ness). 

This has been my current thoughts in a nutshell.  There is a lot to learn in the world.  But we can´t learn about other cultures without understanding their ‘doors and keys’.  Rather, you can read a book.  Learn the facts and statistics.  Know all the numbers.  But that will not help you when it comes down to relating to people.  I cn´understand Turkish culture, or explain what I have experienced by saying:

  • Turkey has a total area of 780,580 sq km
  • The population is approximately 71,892,808 people
  • 98.8% of the population is Muslim
  • The official language is Turkish
  • Turkey is located in both Asia and Europe and is considered a crossroads of culture

It can´t explain what life is like and how people see the world.  And that, my friends, is what exchange students try to do.  See the world through someone else´s eyes. 

Happy Easter to everyone back home.  Miss you and think of you all often.  Just nine weeks left.  I hope you are all ready for me to be back on the same side of the pond.  Love you.


Day In Day Out

April 22, 2011

There is a big difference between living somewhere and visiting somewhere.  When you visit a place, you are exploring and learning new things.  You don´t know where the closest grocery store is, or how to find your way out of the park (so to speak).  You don´t worry about what will happen tomorrow, after all, you are on vacation for that exact reason.  You want to get away from daily life and see something new. 

When you live in a place, you have daily moments.  Somethings just happen every day.  A routine is established.  Yes, plans change and there are unexpected changes, but lots just stays the same.  It wouldn´t be described as boring, but as life. 

When you live somewhere, you know what is going on around town (especially when it is a small town). You see the progression of relationships, stories, and jokes.  (And here comes the line to take away), as an exchange student, we lose that at home.  We don´t know all the day in and day out news and little things.


We learn and adapt to our new culture´s day in and day out lifestyle. 

It is one of the slowest and least noticed changes of an exchanger.  You learn to just act like everyone around you.  The natives don´t really notice it.  You don´t really notice it.  It just happens unannounced.  Then when you go back home -WHAM!!-  You realize you have changed.  But how? (I´ll start answering this question June 26th)

That being said, there are a few things I know I have become used to since coming to Turkey, more specifically Samsun and the life that comes with it. 

  • Crossing the streets.  In the USA, the driver is very responsible for not hitting any pedestrians.  Here it is the opposite.  I cross the streets no problem now, that wasn´t the case in September.
  • I recognize people on the streets.  A key sign of being established in a city.  I love seeing people I know.
  • I know where I am (in the city) and don´t ever feel nervous finding my way home..not that I stray from my turf all that often. 
  • Not everything is new and exciting anymore.  It is just life.  Which is amazing.

However (there is always an exception), you do hear the big news from home.  Today, for example.  Not only is it Earth Day, my uncle and aunt´s wedding anniversary, but it is my brother´s 14th birthday. 

So happy birthday Greyson.  I miss you a lot and can´t wait to see you again.  Only 2 months!!!!  I really hope you are having an awesome day and thinking of me a lot (just kidding).  🙂  Keep having fun buddy.


April 17, 2011

What makes up a home?  Rather, what makes up an ‘exchange student’s’ home?  For many people, a home means one place, one house, one address.  It is true, I do have an address here in Turkey.  I do live in an apartment.  I say ‘I´m going home’ after TÖMER finishes every day.  But what other places in the city do I feel ‘at home’?  Where do I go when I want to feel at home without actually being in the apartment?  For just a quick list on some of those places:


Like I have said before, TÖMER is where we go when we can´t go anywhere else.  It was the center of our world in fact those first few months (I wonder just how many times we said ‘just meet at TÖMER’ in lack of another place we all knew).  Everything in Samsun was related to TÖMER´s location…seriously.  Not to mention the ridiculous percentage of foreigners at TÖMER.  That helps a lot when it comes to feeling out of place.  There is an interesting connection that is formed between two foreigners when there are very few in the city.  Although there are only 4 Americans and over 50 Palestinians, we are all yabancı in this country. 

Samsun Anadolu Lisesi

Another place I have mentioned a million and a half times.  I don´t know if there is much more to say, other than I could not be happier with my school and class.  It may not be perfect, but SAL has never given me any problems.   A lot of memories have come from the days spent in the classroom at the end of the hall, in the cafeteria, or talking with the administrators.  The picture is from our cafeteria.  Yes, the mother is a chicken and the babies are ducklings. ‘Salep’/Gramafon

First off, the ‘Salep’ cafe has a name, it´s just that we don´t always need to say it.  ‘Salep’ is enough.  Gramafon is another cafe-one of the first we discovered in Samsun.  We have our cafes.  Yes, the waiters know us.  But it´s okay and is part of being ‘established’ (does that word make sense?) in the city you live in. 

This last picture has nothing to do with a special place in Samsun.  Just part of Turkey.  We saw this one day while walking throughout the city.  No, this is not an uncommon sight to see.


April 14, 2011

There is this amazing aspect about exchange I don´t think I have stressed enough throughout all my past posts.  That is that exchange is not made up of one person.  Yeah, at times I feel alone or like I have no friends, but that is beside the point.  The point is there are a lot of people involved in my exchange that aren´t me.  Therefore I want to leave just a little space in my blog just of these people.  I have broken them down into groups for easier understanding. 🙂  And in no particular order:


SALL is the acronym we use to refer to ourselves, the four AFS exchangers in Samsun this year.  Sam, Abigail, Lena, and Lucas.  Basically, I couldn´t ask for a better group.  We are a so different from each other, I don´t even know if I would be friends with these three if we all just happened to go to the same high school in the states.  However, we all get along like siblings now and I don´t know what I would do without them. 

My Hosts

Of course my host family has played a HUGE role in my exchange.  I am with them almost every day.  They teach me the little things about Turkish culture…the things I will want to do after I get home, but won´t make sense to anyone else.  They were unbelievably patient when I couldn´t speak their language or didn´t know their culture.  This doesn´t jsut include the people living in my apartment, but also all the aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I know I´ll miss them a lot come June 26th.

SAL 11-E

My class at school.  I will miss them so so much when I get back to the States.  Another great thing about my really big class (33 if everyone comes) is that there are two other exchange students with a Rotary program; one American, one Brazilian.  I am so comfortable with my class.  They are also so comfortable with having foreigners in the class.  It really is a two-way learning experience.  They know what we can understand and how to include us.  Even though this year school is not exactly academic (something I miss a lot), I still love being at school.   


Where would I be without TÖMER and everyone who ‘lives’ there?  It is a scary thought.  I can´describe TÖMER here, it deserves a post unto its own.  In other words, keep your eye out for it.  🙂  Basically TÖMER is our home when we have no where else to go. 

American (still living in America)

I realized something just a few weeks after arriving in Turkey (wow, that was so long ago!).  I have the most amazing and wonderful family on the planet.  Of course, you are entitled to your own opinion, hopefully your family taking the place of mine.  However, being away caused me to realized just how much I love my family and how great it is that they are all supporting me throughout this whole year.  I haven´t been able to talk to my extended family a lot throughout my stay, but it is great when I do.  They are so supportive and willing to put up with my confused wonderings (especially my Uncle Jon and Aunt Saige for that last part).  Because I am my family and my family is me.  Turkey taught me that.  I love you all.  unfortunately, you were all spared the photos, I don´t have technological understanding to upload from different source than the USB.  Sorry, I had so many possibilities.  However, here is a picture that made me think of home. 

The Türk

I don´t know his name or his story.  Just that every Turk that walks by me without staring or assuming I am NOT Turkish.  They are a big part of the whole experience too.  Every time someone says ‘Oh, I thought you were Turkish’ or ‘You´re a foreigner?  You speak Turkish!’, it is a sign that I am much more part of this world.  It may be the waiter in the lachmacun restaurant or the guy at Turkcell.  Maybe it is the friend of a friend or a random person who asks for the time.  I don´t hesitate to respond; I know what they are saying.  The Turk is the one who forced me to change my view on life and how I see the world.  He taught me to act as a Turk, even though I can never truly be Turkish.  I am comfortable with these people.  That is how I know I have truly changed. 

Ten weeks.  One day. 

That is all what is left.

March 30, 2011

March 30, 2011

There is something interesting that has happened to me.  Well, not to me, but to my life.  It has started to become normal.  I still don´t quite know how this is possible considering I am living in a foreign country which is so so different than the USA, but somehow very little is able to take me by surprise anymore. 

One thing I wish I could explain more in my blog is what daily life is really like.  It is a hard thing to do; just try explaining your life…the things you do everyday that seem so normal they aren´t even worth mentioning.  However, it is the little things that make living here unique and interesting.

Therefore, I want to share a story of what happened today in school.  First, the background information.  There was a math test today during 4th period.  That means during both 2nd and 3rd period, we must convince the teacher to not teach and give us the hour to study for the test (since you could never study at home…).  Of course not everyone is studying.  Normal other activity can be expected: talking, reading, listening to music. 


Turks love music.  Singing and dancing and playing.  I don´t know if it is special to my class, but they are especially fond of music.  It is very odd for a day to pass without me hearing some form of musical expression or another.  Don´t take this negatively, I love music just as much as the next person.  It may be some folk song that randomly starts to be sung in the middle of break (or possibly class), someone playing music from their phone of MP3 player, or, like today, there is an instrument in the classroom.

Today there was a guitar.  I have never heard my class sing so much before.  And since there were two classes of no class, it offered even more opportunity to express themselves.  Fatih (the boy who brought the guitar) played for a long time.  One song after another.  Strange thing, everyone knew all the songs, or at least the choruses.  I did not which was a bit sad, but by the end of the day, I too was starting to catch on.

All in all, it was a very good day. 

*I know I posted earlier today.  I wrote that a few days ago, but never actually posted it.  Anyway, now it looks like I am super dedicated to this blog thing. 🙂


March 30, 2011

and how benim brain switches İnglizce’den Türkçe’ye.

Let me tell you people, it´s rough.  I no longer can think in just one language.  It always comes out as two.  Rather, it is easy enough when I am thinking.  No one else is there to be confused by my thoughts.  You see, ‘I kalkmalıyım çünkü sadece thirty dikika sonra I need to leave the house’ makes perfect sense to me.  Seriously, why wouldn´t it?  Even if you don´t know Turkish this is pretty basic stuff (bence, haha).  

Thinking is something we do without thinking.  It is hard to control your thoughts.  You just, think.  It is like consistently talking to yourself without making any sound.  Anything and everything can pop into your head, whatever comes comes.  Therefore, when you know two languages, whatever word comes…comes no matter the language.  Basically, thinking is not the problem.

Speaking is.

Although I know English so so much better than Turkish, I think it is easier to speak just Turkish over just English.  When I speak Turkish, I am speaking to Turks (except the times Americans want to hear what this crazy language even sounds like).  Most of the time, the Turks don´t know English.  Yani (Rather), they know a few words of even may be able to hold a simple conversation.  However, it is a safe bet to say my Turkish is better than their English.  Therefore, it is easier for both parties involved if Turkish is spoken.  I am also much more focused when I speak Turkish.  I know that whoever I am speaking with cannot understand English and therefore English cannot be used. 

Speaking just English is another story.  Most of the English spoken is with the other Americans in Samsun.  They know Turkish.  They know Turkish slang and what not.  They can understand basically anything I say (as far as the words used, anlam (meaning) maybe not).  Therefore, while a lot of what we say are English words, if I throw in a ‘naber’, ‘yo(k), yo(k)’, or ‘canım’ they don´t have a problem understanding what I mean. 

Usually, it is the words like okay/tamam, yes/evet, no/hayır, but/ama, or/ya da etc./falan that trip me up the most.  Funny thing is, those were the hardest words to get used to saying.  Our responses (using the words above) are so automatic.  We truly don´t think about those words.  Therefore, having to use a different word for the same meaning threw me for a loop. 

To put it shortly, I have to speak slowly when I speak to Americans who don´t know Turkish.  Such as: my family, my classmates, other exchanges students not in Turkey.  It is a small problem.  Although I can understand everything just fine, finding the right words to say can be a little bit difficult at times.  Or, if I do just speak, it probably isn´t going to be just English.

Just like my thoughtlarım (lar-plural suffix; ım-possesive suffix).  But this is a good thing, right?  I wanted to learn Turkish.  I am learning Turkish.  I don´t have a big problem forgetting my English a bit; it will come back within the first few weeks of being in the USA again.   

This post happened to be a bit rambley.  But hey, the title may imply that just a bit.  One last note/fun fact for the day: only 83 (?) days until I fly from İstanbul.  I don´t even know what my thoughts on that are.  It is a terribly exciting and wee bit sad feeling all rolled into one.  One day at a time.